Boozy Plays: The Tempest

To thee and thy company I bid a hearty welcome.

-The Tempest

Hello, and welcome! ‘Tis time for a little Shakespeare-inspired boozin’.

So, something just occurred to me: in all our years of Boozy Books/Plays and attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, C and I have never partaken in any of the drinks we recommend during our viewings. We didn’t even play the Hamlet drinking game. (You know the one… Take a shot every time someone dies? Yes, you do.) Anyway, despite being pretty consistent enablers, we are very bad boozers.

The problem is that we want to remember and engage in the experience of the play. Getting drunk is decidedly hindering in that respect. Maybe if we rush a second viewing of Coriolanus we can discuss having a few glasses of Syrah. (Except C isn’t a wine drinker… That’s ok, I’ll drink hers.)

Anyway, tangent aside, it’s time to dive into The Tempest.

I’ve mentioned this before but did you know that Teller (of Penn and Teller) choreographed the magic for a production of The Tempest in 2014? Also, Tom Waits did the music for that production. And the acrobatics were by Pilobolus. I’m not saying I don’t foresee excellence from the Stratford production, but damn. They better step it up, amiright? (I’m so kidding. I just needed a place to create a backlink to one of our older posts. Because SEO.)

So, yes, if it isn’t already apparent, magic and music are a big deal in The Tempest. I covered that in Monday’s post so I won’t linger on that point any longer. By now, you get it. One hopes.

The Tempest opens with a storm – the eponymous tempest – and some quick n’ dirty exposition. Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded on an island for 12 years. Why? Because Prospero was a Duke and his brother was a Dick. You know, ye olde jealous sibling trope.

While on his lonely island, Prospero came to command a “spirit” named Ariel and Caliban, the deformed son of an evil (albeit dead) witch. To be honest, most of Prospero’s magic seems to lie in his control of these characters. Ariel, in particular, handles much of the actual hocus pocus (things like creating the storm, putting people to sleep with magical sleepytime music, and scaring said people by appearing as an angry harpy). Both of these characters are locked in servitude to Prospero, and long for freedom. But they’re not portrayed as human, so does anyone care? Yes. Shakespeare cares.

In fact, The Tempest is thought to have been a commentary on colonialism, presenting the complex and problematic relationship of the “well-meaning” and “much advanced” colonizer and the “savage” colonized. Prospero has not only stolen Caliban’s rulership of the island, but he has also leveraged his rescue of Ariel to keep the spirit in his employ with the carrot of freedom always dangling just out of reach. Of course, Ariel is eventually promised his freedom as the play wraps up, but it’s never exactly clear what Caliban’s fate is. Is he left on the island to take his rightful place as ruler, or is he taken back to Naples to become a sideshow novelty? One hopes the former.

As for plot, there are three. Because interweaving stories was Shakespeare’s specialty (and a great way to appeal to as many people in the audience as possible). In one, we have the romantic plotline. Prospero encourages the match between his daughter and Ferdinand, prince of Naples. The goal is to reinstate his daughter into her rightful place as a noble. Plot number two is the rise and fall of Caliban’s doomed coup. He also discovers alcohol and falls in love(?) with Stephano and Trinculo. Plot three is Antonio and Sebastian’s plan to kill King Alonso and his advisor, Gonzalo.

The play ends with an implied wedding, forgiveness, and freedom (for Ariel at least). Prospero, finally on his way back to civilization, has no further need of magic, so he breaks his staff and renounces his powers. I mean, I wouldn’t… but you do you Prospero.

And, now, a drink! I feel that this needs something tropical with a chunk of dry ice. It’s a little on the nose, but I make no apologies. So, the drink to drink in this case is something called “rock out with your conch out,” which is just a crazy ridiculous beautiful-looking cocktail served in a freakin’ conch shell. It’s made with a blend of rums, pineapple, pomegranate, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and falernum. And a chunk of dry ice to create that magical fog.




The Tempest: Magic, Manipulation, and Music

Hey there! Welcome to today’s exploration of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

*But first, let me give you a brief rundown of the filmed versions of The Music Man. (This was supposed to go up on Saturday, but a 9 mile hike kinda put a damper on productivity.)

There’s no more definitive version of The Music Man than the 1962 film starring Robert Preston. I also alluded to the 2003 tv-movie version in my earlier Music Man post, and it’s certainly a gem with stars like Matthew Broderick, Kristen Chenoweth, Molly Shannon, and Victor Garber.

You can also watch an absurd animated version of Shipoopi, courtesy of Family Guy.

Ok, that’s done. Now, on to the magic, manipulation, and music of The Tempest.

Written between 1610 and 1611, The Tempest is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote on his own. It’s also rather different from his earlier works in its overall style. More than any other one of Shakespeare’s works, The Tempest follows a neoclassical structure that is informed by the tradition of tragicomedy and the courtly masque. (Cue Ben Jonson laughing from beyond the grave.)

Interestingly, The Tempest’s use of magic is in complete opposition to the darker tones found in Macbeth and Hamlet, and returns to the whimsy found in the much earlier Midsummer Night’s Dream. Given James I’s propensity for witch hunts and his general paranoia toward the occult at this time, The Tempest is remarkable in that it doesn’t follow the “give the monarchy what they want” mentality that influenced the creation of so many of Shakespeare’s earlier plays.

That aside, the magic of The Tempest is remarkable in its usage because its only purpose is to forward a singular goal for Prospero – manipulating Antonio and Alonso, and restoring Miranda to her rightful place as a Duchess of Milan. Once Prospero sees his daughter married to Ferdinand and forgives his brother, he renounces magic. It’s as though magic is intrinsically tied to life on the island – a mere byproduct of having been deserted and a means to return to civilized life. The mischief and manipulation associated with Prospero’s magic also disperses as the play’s conclusion falls in line with the typical format of a comedy. Everything ends rather neatly as the characters return to realism (and Naples).

I think one of the aspects I’m most excited to see in Stratford’s production is the interpretation of music. The Tempest, as written, incorporates quite a bit of song. From Caliban’s drunken singing to Ariel’s magical sleepytime music, there are lots of moments in which music and magic intermingle. Stratford has always impressed me with their incorporation of music, so I’m excited to see how they handle both music and magic in this production.

That’s all for now! I’ll put together a Boozy Plays post for Friday in which I’ll explore the plot a little more deeply, and provide a pairing that’s nothing short of magical.


Boozy Musicals: Guys & Dolls

Happy Friday, friends! Boy, have I been looking forward to this post. I get to pair Guys & Dolls with booze! I would say the two go hand-in-hand quite naturally, really. You see, there is an assortment of gambling/boozing gangsters in the story aaand alcohol is sort of used as a plot device to further one of the storylines . So, yes, pairing Guys & Dolls as our first ever Boozy Musical does seem rather fitting. Let’s get started!

For those who are somehow unfamiliar with this classic musical, there are several (let’s saaay three? At least…) plotlines running through the course of the show. Interestingly, I find the opening number, “Fugue for Tinhorns”, to be a perfect reflection of the story to follow – three characters sing three distinct sets of harmony and lyrics around and over each other in canon. It’s one of those numbers that kind of changed the face of musical theatre, because (for that time) it was pretty inventive. Most musicals up to that point stuck with one character singing at a time or having all characters sing the same lyrics. Let’s just say “Fugue for Tinhorns” is an oft-visited subject in good ol’ THA481 (History of Theatre).

Ok, now that I’ve told you about the brilliant, groundbreaking, and deliberately orchestrated opening number, let’s get to the story. Basically, two of the major plotlines are love stories. One follows Nathan Detroit (illegal crap game organizer extraordinaire) and his fiancé of fourteen years, Adelaide (lounge singer desperate to tie the knot and be an honest woman). The other love story kinda has that 90s teen movie trope that involves a bet about whether the guy can make the chick fall for him – of course, this was back in the 50s so clearly the OG “make a bet, fall in love” plotline. Anyway, the characters involved are Sky Masterson (gambler and secret bible expert) and Sarah Brown (boring, prim, proper, and only interesting once Sky gets her drunk). The third major plotline involves the crap game that Nathan is supposed to set up for his gangster friends and the ensuing chaos as they try to evade police. There are a couple other underlying things going on, but those are the biggies so we’ll leave it at that.

As you might expect from a musical comedy the action is fast-paced and sharp, and the plot (or at least the end result) is fairly predictable. Most of the characters come across as a bit one-dimensional simply because the writing of the time focused on character types that were generally defined by one major character trait (sometimes two). So, despite the interwoven storylines, the show is really very easy to follow and quite fun, as a result of its great pacing, bopping around from one plot to the next. As usual, I’m no fan of giving away the “deets” so if you’re looking for a tell-all synopsis go ahead and check out its Wiki page.

What I do want to get into – albeit briefly – is the use of alcohol to further the Sky/Sarah storyline. Sky kind of uses alcohol to loosen Sarah up… Now, I will tell you that in the context of the show he’s already won his bet, so it isn’t a scene about taking advantage of her. If the scene is directed properly it’s actually Sky’s attempt at getting Sarah to stop being a pain in his ass and have a little fun. Because, while I do not like the idea of women being plied with alcohol, Sarah does need to lighten up. A lot. She is boring, predictable, virtuous, and the most unwatchable part of the show right up to the point that Sky orders her a “dulce de leche” and convinces her that Bacardi is a type of preservative.

Obviously, you know where this transition is leading… Yup, I’m pairing Guys & Dolls with the (until recently) fictional Bacardi cocktail Sky refers to as “Dulce de Leche”. Now, I’m sure a lot of you recognize this as a flavor of ice cream that gets its name from the thick caramel condensed-milk swirls that is the actual South American treat known as dulce de leche. At the time the musical was written there was no such cocktail. The Bacardi dulce de leche drink was not invented until the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys & Dolls. It was concocted as a specialty to be served at the show’s grand opening. The recipe is as follows: Bacardi, Godiva, and cream.




Boozy Plays: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Happy Friday, Nerd Cactus friends! Welcome back to this month’s pre-Stratford marathon, which we have loving named Shakespeare-a-palooza. Today’s boozy pairing is fueled by William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Can we take a moment to talk about Shakespeare’s subtitle on this one, real quick? Like, what kind of “meh” moment was he having when he decided to plug on “or What You Will”. It’s the ultimate shoulder shrug. You get the feeling he maybe wrote this one for the money. Somebody was breathing down Bill’s neck going “comedies sell better, Will. Give in to the demand, Will.” So Will basically subtitled the thing, “Whatever”. Amazing.

Anyway, I gave you a brief rundown of the lunacy that occurs within this play. It’s your average Elizabethan comedy, full off mistaken identities, crossdressing, and weddings. As I mentioned, I don’t think this one is particularly deep and it’s definitely not among my favorites. Of course, knowing Stratford, they’ll find some way to make me love it. But I will never love Orsino. He’s a bit much… He’s the one who’s got the most memorable line in the show – “if music be the food of love, play on” – but that doesn’t mean he’s worth remembering. Was that mean? Ah, well.

The best adaptation of Twelfth Night – and C and I agree on this – is She’s the Man. Yes, the Amanda Bynes movie. No shame. Like I said, Shakespeare didn’t exactly pull out the stops with this one so, yeah, it was the perfect fodder for a silly teen movie. In any case, if you’ve seen She’s the Man you pretty much have an overview of the love triangles and crossdressing plots which take place in Twelfth Night. Or What You Will. Or Whatever….

In many ways Olivia and Orsino are whiny-ass bitches prone to melodrama and maybe should just end up together, but Shakespeare decides to kind of level them out by pairing them off with Viola and Sebastian. If you’ve seen even five minutes of the Kenneth Branagh version, you know how freakin’ melodramatic they are. I mean, to be fair, it’s written that way, but Jeeeeeezuz could they be anymore over-the-top? Orsino’s forever lamenting and Olivia has sworn off men for seven years in response to her brother’s death. I mean, mourning is nice and all, but what? Let us leave behind these characters. I like them not.

Viola’s story is a lot more fun because she’s a shipwreck survivor and dresses as a boy so she can make it on her own as a servant to Duke Orsino. She also acts as a go-between for Orsino and Olivia which, of course, leads to Olivia falling for her (as you may have guessed). Now, Viola has her fair share of drama too and, sadly, falls for Orsino’s terrible poetry, but she’s a more interesting character to follow and get invested in.

That being said, the pairing today is completely Viola-centric. It’s Viola’s Salty Dog, as recommended by Caroline Bicks, PhD and Michelle Ephraim, PhD: authors of Shakespeare, Not Stirred. The recipe is as follows:

Lime wedge

5 thyme sprigs

Juice of 1/2 a lime

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 ounces ruby-red grapefruit juice

2 ounces gin

Fine sea salt

Rim your glass with the lime wedge and dip it into the sea salt. Muddle 3 thyme sprigs, lime juice, and maple syrup. Fill the glass with ice and pour in grapefruit juice and gin. Garnish with remaining thyme. Enjoy!

I’ll see you salty dogs on Sunday! Happy drinking!


Boozy Plays: Henry IV pt 2 and Henry V

Heyo! Welcome to today’s Boozy Plays, wherein we attempt to pair some Shakespearean classics with their proper alcoholic partner. I’ve covering two plays this week, so let’s get going.

Last time, I brought you Richard II & Henry IV pt One. This time, I’ll be covering the other half of the Henry IV duology and finishing out the first half of Shakespeare’s Plantagenet Plays with Henry V. One of those plays is more fun than the other, and it’s the one on which I’m going to focus my pairing efforts. Because it’s just better.

Part Dos of the one-time Bolingbroke’s tale focuses less on the titular King and more on his son, the future Henry V. In fact, it shouldn’t be viewed as a continuation of the historical record as much as of the narrative from the previous play. In fact, Henry IV’s role in it is mostly to get sick and die so Hal can take the throne and become awesome. So, in essence, Part Two is more prequel than sequel. That’s how cool Henry V is. So, to sum up: Falstaff goes on being Falstaff, but he’s getting older and sicker; Prince Hal is still hanging out with London degenerates, but repudiates them and rejects Falstaff in particular; there’s another rebellion, but Prince John (as if to make up for another English prince named John) uses duplicitous political machinations to end that; and Henry IV gets sick and dies, but not before Hal transforms into Henry and decides to be super serial about being King. Then there’s an epilogue where Shakespeare totally convinces tells the audience he’s not making fun of a political rival using Falstaff.

Basically, the best part of this play is the elegiac comedy of Falstaff and the power of the repudiation scene, which, if done right, can be pretty damn powerful. Though I do like the parallel of both of Prince Hal’s fathers — his real one and his surrogate — sickening and dying over the course of the play. While Falstaff survives to the next play (sort of) and the once Bolingbroke dies, Henry ultimately decides to follow the path of the latter and let Hal die. By the end, he is Henry V.

Not that he wasn’t always cool, mind. When he was fighting at Shrewsbury (the battle from part one), he took an arrow to the face and kept fighting. Keep in mind, he was sixteen at the time. Six-freakin-teen. Take a moment to look up what he had to go through to get the arrow out and you’ll wonder why more people don’t talk about it. Henry V was a beast taking arrows to the face (and just breaking them off to keep fighting) at an age when most of us are complaining about our parents not understanding. Seriously.

But let’s talk about his play. The vast majority of it is taken up by battle, as I discussed on Monday, with a weird detour into romance, and then an untimely death that threw England into chaos because his stupid son kept going catatonic at really, really bad times. (If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll get to follow my nightly conversations with a historical fiction writer of the Wars of the Roses, some of which are really fun!)  It is England’s Independence Day, or something equally patriotic that doesn’t involve aliens. The PatriotPatton? I think I said Patton last time, because I could totally see Henry V standing in front of a St. George’s Cross (remember, no Union Jack yet) or the Plantagenet lions/leopards (it depends on who you ask).

Anyway, it opens with the Southampton Plot, which was an attempt to assassinate Henry that definitely failed (and also served to show that Henry V was NOT TO BE F****D WITH!), but quickly moves to war efforts against France because, if you know your history at all, England had once owned half of France and wanted it back. It’s a quick-moving play, stopping every once in a while to let Henry make great speeches like the “once more unto the breach” speech at Harfleur and then the St. Crispin’s Day speech (“we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) before Agincourt, which is also the climax of the play and results in an astounding English victory. (Historically, it was the battlefield and the ineptness of the French that really won the battle, with some help from the famous English longbow, but it was totally Henry V’s heroism here, OK?) Then Henry has to woo Katherine of Valois even though neither speaks the other language (which is adorable) and claim his place as the heir to the French throne (setting up that whole Joan of Arc thing). Then, at the height of his glory, he dies, leaving an infant to rule and England to rot. If you want to see the rot, read all ninety-seven parts of Henry VI (OK, there’s only three) and Richard III, where the grandson of Katherine of Valois through her second marriage manages to take the throne and start the Tudor dynasty.

Did I use this as a chance to talk history? Yes. Yes, I did. But now you get your reward! DRINKS! I wanted to pick something English, but then I thought… why not something slightly French, too? And maybe something that the English and the French each claim as their own AND came into existence during a war? Is there such a drink? YES! YES,THERE IS! And it’s called a Sidecar! Either invented in London or in Paris at the end of WW1, it’s a mix of Cognac, Triple Sec, and lemon juice, and perfect for this play. I’m going London School and recommending this version, which calls for two parts of Cognac to one part everything else. It’s super delicious, and I’m not the hugest brandy fan.

Alright! That’s it for me today! Sorry for rambling again. I like history…

A will be in tomorrow to recommend something for your viewing pleasure!


Boozy Plays: As You Like It

As You Like It. And you better believe you’re gonna like it, reader. It’s a fun, fast-paced, sweet, witty romp that ends with four weddings and NO funerals. Not interested? What if I told you there was a murderous brother, a cross-dressing love triangle that somehow exists between two people, another love triangle/square/thing involving just about everyone, and recitations of foolishness as only a fool can deliver? It’s all there and more. Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy is pleasing on many levels without being contrived or convoluted. It’s a favorite amongst audiences and though critical response has been fractured throughout its history, it contains some of Shakespeare’s most often quoted speeches and has provided roles for the likes of Helen Mirren, Patti LuPone, Alan Rickman, and Kevin Kline (all of whom are wonderful, and C will direct you to their filmed versions as applies).

The play begins in France though a majority of the action takes place in the forest of Arden. Duke Ferdinand has usurped his older brother’s power and exiled Duke Senior. Ferdinand allows Rosalind, his niece, to remain behind as she is his own daughter, Celia’s, only companion. Meanwhile Orlando is seeking his fortune since his older brother, Oliver, has denied him his inheritance and an education. He falls in love with Rosalind when he is at court. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando as well. Then Duke Ferdinand exiles Rosalind and she, Celia, and a fool run away to the forest of Arden. Mayhem and shenanigans ensue. 

Listen, I’m not going to give away the whole plot… Just read it. It’s a relatively easy Shakespeare read, in my opinion. In fact, I think some critics have referred to it as a lesser work simply because it’s accessible, and they’re weirdly elitist. No, it’s not one of Shakespeare’s deepest explorations of the human condition, but it’s a solid, story with a well-written heroine, some fabulous speeches, and a very, very, very, very (one very for each couple) happy ending.

So what to pair with this fizzy cocktail of love and life? Make it a mimosa. You just can’t be in a bad mood with a mimosa in your hand and you can’t have a bad mood when you’re reading or watching As You Like It. It’s bubbly and fun, and maybe a little fruity. Perfection!



Boozy Plays: Richard II & Henry IV pt One

Heyo! Welcome to the first of this year’s special Boozy Plays features, and the second of our posts during Shakespeare-a-palooza 2016!

If you missed it, Monday’s Post was about Shakespeare’s Histories and why a stickler for historical accuracy such as myself (or just me) can still love the histories despite their being… not very historically accurate.

Today’s post is basically just Boozy Books only with plays. *gasp* I know, I know… what a revelation. The plays we’ll be pairing are those we’ll be seeing up in Stratford at the end of this month. First up, Richard II and Henry IV pt One. I’ll keep them brief so you’re not stuck here reading an essay.

Richard II is about, you guessed it, King Richard II of England. It focuses on the final two years of Richard’s life, particularly as it relates to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), son of Richard’s primary adviser, John of Gaunt. (In fact, it is Gaunt who delivers my favorite speech from the play, in which he compares England to a garden.) Richard is an indecisive, petty, arbitrary, and abrupt ruler (note: he’s a bad ruler), who agrees to hear a dispute between Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, then decides at the last minute to exile both men. When Gaunt dies, Richard seizes all of Bolingbroke’s lands and money (which were due him as John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster’s, son), causing Bolingbroke to return and seize the crown for himself. Richard’s horrible leadership sends most people to Bolingbroke’s side, and he ends up broken in Pontefract (Pomfret in the play) castle, murdered by one of Bolingbroke’s supporters (note: this is one of those historical inaccuracies I mentioned on Monday. It’s far more likely Henry IV let Richard starve to death). Henry repudiates the action and heads to Jerusalem to cleanse himself.

This play, then, is the fall of a bad King and the rise of a new King (as well as the beginning of the House of Lancaster, which would later play such an important role in the Wars of the Roses). We know from history that Bolingbroke hardly turns into a heroic ruler, but he is absolutely seen as the heroic, decisive leader to Richard’s… Richard.

Rebellion continues to be a theme into Henry IV pt 1 (which is, I’m sure, why the play we’re seeing that combines the two is called Breath of Kings: Rebellion). This time, we’re seeing the results of Bolingbroke’s rebellion, the Henry who is forced to rule once he has taken the throne. (And, as Henry says, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”) He wants to deal with his personal misgivings over usurping the throne by going on Crusade (because killing the heathens is just so relaxing), but is forced to deal with problems in Scotland and Wales. He also has to deal with the rumblings of the Percy family, the preeminent northern family who supported Henry’s coup, and Edmund Mortimer, Richard II’s heir (resist the urge to history at them, C… resist… no one likes genealogy as much as you do). Henry’s imperious nature essentially drives the Percys, the Scots, Edmund Mortimer, and Owain Glyndwr (the leader of the Welsh rebellion, called Owen Glendower in the play) together into shared open rebellion, which all culminates in the Battle of Shrewsbury. (Basically, Henry IV’s reign was pretty constantly beset by rebellions.)

Meanwhile, Prince Hal, the future Henry V, is a drunken, dissolute fool who has forsaken the court to pal around with his friends, including one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters: Falstaff. The comparison between Henry Percy (Hotspur) and Prince Henry actually forms one of my favorite components of this play, because Henry IV spends a great deal of it wishing his son were more like the apparently noble, valiant, strong-willed Hotspur. But, in the end, it is the Henry (Hal) he disdains that ends up being the truly loyal, regal, noble son Henry (IV) always wanted. Because, at Shrewsbury, it is Hal who defeats Hotspur, shedding his youthful foolishness and proving himself a true warrior (who ultimately becomes Henry V & gets his own play). The King’s forces prevail on the back of Hal’s personal victory, and the Percy rebellion is defeated.

Of course, there’s all those other players to contend with (Mortimer, the Archbishop of York, Glendower, Northumberland, etc), so the play ends with a “TO BE CONTINUED” rather than a real end. But that’s OK, because I’ll tell you all about it in two weeks.

Now… what to drink? I suppose I could go into an analysis of drinks that seem frivolous, but’ll actually kick your ass, like a Hurricane or a Long Island Iced Tea, but I don’t want to go there. Mostly because I hate both of those drinks and prefer to stick with Whiskey Sours. Instead, I want to recommend my favorite, oh-so-punny hard cider from Trader Joe’s: Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed (for) Cider. I literally giggle every time I see it and think of Henry IV pt One, so… I have to recommend it. We wouldn’t want anything drippy and gross like Richard II, now, would we?

OK, so you made it. And because this ended up being longer than I wanted it to be, here’s a reward for you: Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal.


Sorry for keeping you here so long. Tomorrow, A will give you recommendations of Richard II and Henry IV to watch. Obviously, the above version will be on that list.

See you Sunday!



Shakespeare Saturday: Let’s Get Ready to Stratford!

Heyo! Welcome to Shakespeare Saturday. ‘Tis I, C, the Great Floridian, ready to deliver you some Bard!

I don’t know how many of you have been with us from the beginning, or who were at least here last August, when we first traveled to Stratford, Ontario for their annual Shakespeare Festival. But we did a pretty cool thing and dedicated the entire month of August to our trip, with the weeks leading up to the actual trip focusing on one of the plays we would be seeing while we were there. So, week one was Hamletweek two was Love’s Labour’s Lostand week three was Taming of the Shrewbecause those were the plays we saw.

Well, I am pleased to announce that, beginning with Monday’s Muse, we are launching the Second Annual Festival of Shakes, aka Shakespeare-a-looza! Now, what does that mean for y’all? It means…

The Monday Muse will focus on some aspect of Shakespeare that means something to us, particularly dealing with whatever play is our focus for that week.

Boozy Books will pair the week’s play. (Pretty obvious, hunh?)

Shakespeare Saturday will recommend versions of the play that are easily accessible, whether from the interwebz or in DVD/Blu-Ray form. (Spoiler Alert: There will probably be a lot of Kenneth Branagh. I feel like he’s filmed just about every play at this point.)

Aaaaand Silly Sunday will be a serious look at geo-political influences on theater and… no, I’m just shitting you. I’ll be something stupid, like a funny picture or a spoof version of that week’s play (or just Shakespeare in general.)

The final week of August (beginning the 29th), we will review the performances we see while we are up in beautiful Stratford and exhort all of you to support EVERYTHING about this damn festival. So, obviously, it won’t be the regularly-scheduled posts; it’ll be us going out of our damn minds with love and appreciation for live theater.

So… here are the plays we’ll be focusing on:

Macbeth (I’m not in a theater, so I can say it)

As You Like It 

Richard II/Henry IV pt 1

Henry IV pt 2/Henry V 

Why the last two are a combo is because we’re actually seeing a sort-of combination version of those four plays called Breath of Kings: Rebellion and Breath of Kings: Redemption. Not that it was a long-lasting redemption, mind, since Shakespeare’s next four plays are his Wars of the Roses cycle… But I’ll talk about that later. Oh, yeah, guys… you get to listen to me talk about history.


OK. Announcement done. We’ll do something silly tomorrow and then… SHAKESPEARE-A-PALOOZA 2016!



Boozy Plays: Taming of the Shrew

Greetings, readers, and welcome to our final edition of Nerd Cactus Presents: Shakespeare-a-palooza, most particularly our special Shakespeare’s Plays version of Boozy Books. Not that this means Shakespeare Month is OVER, mind; it’s just that next week is our trip to Stratford, and we believe that our trip should be YOUR TRIP! So, instead of our usual programming (minus Monday, which will be business as usual), we’re bringing you Nerd Cactus: In Canada! We’ll review the plays we’re seeing, fangirl over all the Shakespeare fun, enjoy being in a place where Summery and Pleasant are actually synonymous, and share with you all the awesome stuff we’re doing. Oh my God, guys, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be going. Even though it means being on an airplane.

(I am not good with planes…)


The last play we’re seeing while we’re up in Stratford (go ahead and look at the GIF again…I know you want to) is Taming of the Shrew. You might remember it from Monday’s muse in which I link to my journey with God (Morgan Freeman) to the land of milk and honey (aka a complete lightbulb moment in which I realize Shakespeare don’t like ugly). It’s that play with a lot of really uncomfortable behavior, in which a woman is abused horribly in an attempt to break her. It’s also that play most people probably know as 10 Things I Hate About You. Heath Ledger is the best Petruchio to ever be named Patrick Verona (because Petruchio is from Verona, guys).

OK. So…let’s get a little background on this play. It’s not like Hamlet, where everybody knows what happens. Taming of the Shrew is, somehow, a comedy. This is because no one dies, which is really one of the easiest ways of telling Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies apart (except for his dark comedies, also called ‘the problem plays’). After all, is it really funny that Petruchio basically starves Katherina in order to “break” her? No. No it is not. It’s not funny at all. Which is what makes this play so interesting. But enough on that later.

The plot is as follows: Katherina is a bit of a bitch. No, really, she is pretty mean to a lot of people. We excuse it as a modern audience because she’s also witty, intelligent, and strong-willed; these are all things we value in modern society, for both men and women. But she is still kinda mean. She has a younger sister named Bianca, who is pretty much her opposite and, thus, the ‘perfect woman’ in Elizabethan times. Bianca is submissive, innocent, and wholesome (a full on ingénue) and all the boys want to marry her, particularly Hortensio and Lucentio. Alas, Bianca cannot marry until Katherina does…and ain’t no one wanna marry her. Enter Petruchio (a word meaning ‘asshole’ in Esperanto*), a soldier looking to settle down and  get married. He’s not romantic; he just wants to find a rich woman and marry her. And, guess what, Katherina just happens to be rich! So…guess what? They get married and head back to Verona as husband and wife.

So far, so good, right? Wrong. Here comes the part of the play no one can stomach. It’s about as misogynistic as anything can get. Even Richard III would tell Petruchio to ‘settle down’ and he’s so villainous, his story infected history! Petruchio abuses Katherina. There is no other way to put it. He won’t feed her, dangles dresses and jewelry in front of her and then takes them away, forces her to agree with everything he says (even if it isn’t true), and is basically the worst. THE WORST. There is no redeeming these scenes. No humor. No poking fun. They’re awful in every way.

Meanwhile, the funny part of the play is in the suit of Hortensio and Lucentio for Bianca’s hand. There’s disguises and mistaken identities, elopements, etc. It’s basically a farce. Is it also not the heart of the play. I imagine Shakespeare just put it in there so audiences don’t storm out of the theater, because even in Elizabethan times, Petruchio goes too far.

Eventually, P and K return to Padua (stopping by to see Romeo on the way–no, no, I kid) to a big party where Petruchio demonstrates how submissive and docile Katherina has become. The play ends with a big ol’ speech (and it’s important how big and how ol’ it is, believe me) from Katherina explaining how important it is for a woman to be silent and demure and to listen to her husband in all things because he is her lord and master and yadda yadda yadda

Listen. This isn’t a particularly feminist play. But…this is Shakespeare! The man who brought us Juliet and Beatrice and Cleopatra. Strong women who, though played by men, dominate their plays and their stories. Women who absolutely do not take shit and who are celebrated for their power. How, then, could this be by the same man? Was it written earlier, before Shakespeare really got a handle on women? Well, depending on the dates, Romeo and Juliet is pretty contemporary, with at most a year between them. But, yes, perhaps it is just because he wrote it so early. I don’t think so, though. In fact, I think Katherina is just as powerful as the other ladies of Shakespeare. Why? Because of that speech I mentioned earlier.

The speech I refer to (yadda, yadda, yadda, remember?) is the longest speech in the play, the last speech in the play, and Katherina is front and center. Everyone is looking at her, and she is everything in that moment. Petruchio fades, Bianca fades…everyone fades behind her. And she’s telling everyone that a woman should be silent and invisible. It is the single most visible moment in the entire play and it belongs to Katherina. No matter what she says in that moment, she is the star. And that’s how I know Shakespeare loved her. That’s how I know she isn’t broken. Tempered, maybe, in that she has found an equal with whom to share her life and so she no longer feels the need to fight back and to lash out, but definitely not broken. And it must be noted that, in giving this speech, she has won Petruchio and herself quite a bit of money. As for Petruchio? I think, in the words “Kiss me, Kate,” we realize that he knows she isn’t broken, and that this is a woman he loves, and the two of them are well-suited. Their strong wills can temper one another (because oh do I think Katherina just placates Petruchio to shut him up) and create a happy marriage.

But WHAT ABOUT THE ABUSE? Well, yeah…that’s bad. There’s no excusing it. And there’s really no excusing Petruchio from it, even if Katherina decides to (which…I’m sure she gets back at him after the play is over). But I don’t think Shakespeare condones what he wrote. He was exploring the concept of marriage and the relationship between men and women in this play. And perhaps he was turning a mirror upon Elizabethan society. Yes, love marriages had begun to dot up and here and there, and the concept of marriage was changing, but…men still tended to behave as if women were meant to be silent (the Queen’s mother, Anne Boleyn, had basically been killed for not being silent). Perhaps Shakespeare didn’t want none of that nonsense. And so long as I can believe that about Shakespeare, I can enjoy this play (even as I squirm at parts of it).

Now! What to drink? Yes. This is a play that requires some drinks. Well, you might think I’m weird, but I am recommending a Dark and Stormy. This is a drink made famous by Gosling’s Rum of Bermuda (shout out to Bermuda, where my dad was raised!). It is a mix of their dark rum and ginger beer, served over ice and garnished with a lime. Why, you may ask? That sounds so islandy! And not the Isle of Great Britain, either, that sceptred isle. Trust me, it works. Petruchio’s abuse is the dark, Katherina is the stormy (as is their relationship). It seems like, because of the abuse scenes, this might be a tragic play–or at least a very heavy one–but it ends up being quite humorous despite itself. And, given that there’s more ginger beer (which can be made nonalcoholic and usually is) than rum, this is a surprisingly light drink! See? It works! Gosling’s even makes a pre-made one, if you want to go that route!

Buy the book (play):

Buy the booze: (the rum) (the ginger beer)

The ready-to-drink version (canned):

So, that’s it for me, today! I think I’ve kept you here long enough! Until tomorrow, when we’ll share with you all the best versions of Taming of the Shrew available on the big (or small) screen. (‘Cause sometimes you just wanna watch the movie.)


*Petruchio does NOT mean asshole in Esperanto

Boozy Books: Love’s Labour’s Lost

Happy Friday, everybody and welcome to Boozy Books (nay, Boozy Plays). If you joined me on Monday you’ll know that I’m not a particularly ardent fan of Shakespeare’s comedies. I know… “BLASPHEMY”. Well, I just find that as far as plot is concerned they are often similar as well as similarly contrite – to the point of confusing one for the other on a regular basis. They insist on relying upon the same mistaken identity and switcheroo shenanigans to create action in otherwise pointless story lines and there are far fewer developed character arcs than are present in the tragedies. Perhaps that’s an inequitable generalization, but if you watched the link from Monday you’ll see that I’m not the only one that thinks this way.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t like any of Shakespeare’s comedies. Far from it! A Midsummer NightDream is, frankly, one of my all time favorite plays, and the banter that runs rampant between Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing is a perfect take on the challenges of loving someone you “hate”. However, the romantic plotlines of many a Shakespearean comedy remain the same, as does the use of confusion to create momentum. There’s no denying that good ol’ Willy can still turn a pretty phrase in these pieces and as a result it is the language that really sticks out. Love’s Labour’s Lost is no exception.

Though Love’s Labour’s Lost can most certainly be lumped in as one of the various, interchangeable, mediocre comedies I have spoken of, it’s still worth a look. What better way to garner appreciation for the Bard’s work than by studying the good with the bad, the early with the late. That being said, in all fairness to Love’s Labour’s Lost, it is one of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies and there’s a lost sequel somewhere so maybe it shouldn’t be judged too harshly for it’s seemingly unresolved resolution.

So anyway, about the play… We first meet the Ferdinand, King of Navarre, and his three attending lords. They have sworn off women and decided to fast for three years in order to better dedicate themselves to study. Guess how long that lasts… About as long as it takes to meet the Princess of Aquitane and her attending ladies. Because the bros of Navarre have sworn off women they must all hide their love and make use of the token fool to carry their letters. Of course, there’s a letter mix-up, the bros realize they’re all in love, and the ladies disguise themselves as one another to throw off the dudes. Because comedy. Sadly, the ending is marred by the death of the Princess’s father and all weddings are postponed a year. Because… Comedy?

For the pairing I’m going to recommend something light, sweet, bubbly, and utterly simple. There’s really no complexity here so we’ll go with a little nip that doesn’t require a refined palette. So Spumante champagne is the way to go! Frothy and sweet it’ll give you a little pep without being overpowering.

That’s it for Boozy Plays this week! Here’s hoping that when the time comes to see this one on stage I’ll have a good time (with or without the Spumante). But hey, if you get the right group of actors together anything can be entertaining. I’m sure the Stratford Festival is well aware that Love’s Labour’s Lost is a little lacking and has done their part to stage it as interestingly and amusingly as possible.